Combining lasting designs with emerging innovative talent, Duralee is one of the interior design industry’s most exciting fabric brands. The company began, aptly enough, when the country’s pulse quickened. Returning from World War II, Lenny Silberman faced changing times. The world was inching in a different direction, and by 1947 it was already evident to Silberman, as he walked the streets of New York, that the future “was what you made it,” he asserts. Never subtle, Silberman answered an ad in The New York Times promising “a HUGE opportunity” as a textile shipping clerk for $35 a week, landed the job, and went to night school to expand his industry knowledge and learn the fine art of selling. Together with his two partners – Sig Rosenberger and Marshall Kutz – and seven other hands-on employees, Silberman launched Duralee in 1952 from an office smaller than most modern-day walk-in closets.
On the road for six months at a clip, each fabric sale began with the librarian, keeper of the sample books. The consummate salesman, Silberman expanded sales territories with his belief that excellent customer service is paramount, an ideal that has carried through to today’s sales force.
As design centers opened in the 1970’s, Duralee knowingly entered in, and by 1991, the company was purveying fabrics to more than 40 countries. Silberman spearheaded the expansion of Duralee into hospitality and contract markets in the 1990s, a division that his daughter, Amy Silberman-Benjamin, Senior Vice President, now heads. Lee Silberman, a nephew, assumed the role Executive Vice President, and currently leads the export division, expanding the brand’s presence worldwide. Marty Rosenberger, son of founding partner Sig, has been with the firm for over 40 years and now holds the title of President.
In creating core values of value-driven ingenuity and cutting-edge products while maintaining personalized customer service not often offered by competitors, Duralee has become a household name in the world of interiors. The Duralee product line maintains a captivating persona that is constantly evolving. With the establishment of its own design studio in New York’s Chelsea district, Duralee has grown to include proprietary patterns with a fresh and fun, yet chic design aesthetic, and in 1999, trimmings were introduced as a complement to the expanding fabric collections.
Recognizing the talents of their design clientele, Duralee has aligned themselves with budding and established designers to create a series of licensed collections. When choosing to work with a designer, they do so not necessarily for their name, but for their ability to reinforce the Duralee design style with fabrics that are punctuated with their individuality. The Duralee Designers range from the bold Thomas Paul and expressive Eileen Kathryn Boyd to Clodagh, the industry’s first designer residential collection of earth-friendly textiles for the home.
Diversification to reach new clientele spurred brand and line expansion, and with the addition of Highland Court in 2001, Duralee was poised to enter the high-end market. Artisanal, with luxe style, superb craftsmanship, and rich textures in sophisticated palettes from the finest mills, Highland Court has earned an industry reputation for attainable luxury. In 2008, Highland Court introduced their first licensed collection with designer Philip Gorrivan, whose follow-up collection hit the market in January 2011.
To reach the other end of the brand spectrum, Duralee launched Suburban Home. For those seeking lower price points without compromising taste, Suburban Home is designed in-house, much like the Duralee product, and produced at a budget-friendly cost level. With the introduction of the Alfred Shaheen Collection in 2010, the Suburban Home product line has also expanded to include licensees.
In 2003, Duralee introduced Duralee Furniture. With a full-staff of professional craftsmen in their furniture facility in Morganton, North Carolina, Duralee was the first in the fabric industry to create their own furniture in-house. Proudly made in America, Duralee Furniture offers exceptional quality with customizable options for optimal versatility.
In recent months, when existential and financial crises got the better of some competitors, Duralee attributes its success during this hard economic time to many factors. The company is a postwar archetype and Silberman a retro sophisticate. Their risk-friendly and intuitive nature is evident in the collaborative and novel collections produced, as well as in the witticisms of the astute Mr. Silberman. As CEO, his industry knowledge is as remarked upon as his business acumen, market timing, passionate love of fabrics, and, yes, wit. The well-run company’s ability to value the designers it serves underscores Duralee’s place in the upper echelon of textile companies. Silberman is an octogenarian with the foresight to move past doing the same thing because that’s what worked before. His gut reactions may seem like quick decisions, but stem from consulting talented staff to which he characteristically delegates.
Duralee caters to the nuances essential to interior designers, and does so with a complete lack of flash or pretense. No one is averse to answering phones or attention to detail. It is not uncommon for the voice on the other end of the line to be that of Lenny Silberman himself, who sits at his desk daily with the now sepia photograph of the company’s first holiday party hanging behind him. The two-story company headquarters in Bay Shore, NY, as modest and unassuming as the staff, belies Duralee’s position as a major mover and shaker in the creative class from New York to Los Angeles. Self-satisfaction is the enemy of creativity, so perhaps the anything-but-smug attitude from the top down is no surprise.
Duralee demonstrates innovation through long-lived product lines synonymous with quality and in the empire that continues to be built. The firm’s three main fabric divisions—Duralee, Highland Court and Suburban Home—offer variously priced lines targeted at a diverse customer base, achieving the perilous balance between the informal and the chic and producing product that is destined to reside in million dollar mansions as well as someone’s first home. Duralee Fine Furniture and many Duralee fabrics fly under the tagline “Made in the USA” and assiduously are. The company also imports from more than 45 countries. From the modest one-room office, the company has grown to include warehouses and factories in Bay Shore, NY, and Morganton, NC, 12 corporate showrooms, 70 agent showrooms nationwide, and 41 international agent showrooms, including a presence in emerging markets. That boils down to over 26,000 SKUs of fabrics, thousands of furniture SKUs and hundreds of employees.
Future efforts continue to focus on developing original product, along with utilizing emerging technology in an effort to enhance its already exceptional customer service. A company built on the foundations of customer service continues to support its expanding product lines by friendly, knowledgeable customer service representatives and one of the industry’s most extensive networks of professional sales representatives. Typical of the company’s design legacy, Duralee deftly merges the contradictions of a family-run and oriented business and an established brand with the progressive cultivation of new and emerging design talent and ideas. The company sees these times as the beginning of a new era, another opportunity for huge optimism, clear thinking and ultimately renewed creativity in the design industry as a whole.